Kazakhstan reflects determination of capitalist oligarchs to hold onto their wealth
Russian forces leaving the country from the airport at Almaty. | Morning Star

What is going on in Kazakhstan? While this and many other questions are being asked one thing is clear. Some very powerful capitalists in the country are determined to hold onto the wealth they have acquired since the defeat of socialism when the Soviet Union was dismantled.

This large country with a relatively small population and a long border with Russia—with which it is in a customs union with a mutual aid treaty—contains a substantial proportion of the former Soviet Union’s carbon and mineral resources.

It is strategically situated along the axis of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.

The collective property of the Kazakh people has been appropriated, with great wealth concentrated in the hands of a corrupt plutocracy distinguished by conspicuous consumption. These people naturally have a weather eye open to any threats to their newly acquired wealth and consequently, have much of it invested in the City of London and the luxury property market.

In 2011, President Nursultan Nazarbayev was re-elected with a useful 96% of the votes but when, later that year, a demonstration for higher wages kicked off in the oil production center of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, the regime responded with deadly force and 14 people died.

So serious was this new threat to the stability and reputation of the regime that Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister, was hired. Blair advised Nazarbayev to roll with the challenge, stress that reforms would be gradual, would “take time,” and meanwhile polish the country’s international image.

This latest uprising looks too serious to be dispelled with honeyed words from the Right Honorable Sir Tony Blair, whose currency in the credibility stakes is even more compromised today than when Nazarbayev flashed out a cool £13 million for his advice.

Demonstrations, sparked by the end of food and energy price caps, are taking place throughout the country—they are relatively peaceful in some places, in others they are accompanied by armed clashes, with government buildings and police vehicles burned and mounting casualties and social media has been closed down. There seems to be evidence that the violent protests, particularly ones that involve the destruction of businesses and government buildings, have been the work of organized gangs.

In any case, this crisis in Kazachstan has been long in gestation. The 2008 financial crisis hit hard. With its newly “liberalized” economy integrated into the global capitalist economy, Kazakhstan was not well prepared for the shock.

A slow recovery has since been inhibited by the knock-on impact of Western sanctions on Russia. Public health has been deeply damaged by the coronavirus, wage support for people on minimum incomes has been slashed, and people are facing a second pandemic winter.

The wily Nazarbayev passed the presidency to the former speaker Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and it is he who issued orders to use deadly force in dealing with the disorder.

Kazakhstan is a multiethnic and nominally secular republic, but it is a majority Muslim country and, like its neighbors in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, contends with Islamist and jihadist movements and forces connected to Turkey’s regional expansionist project.

Neither these forces nor internal power struggles should be disregarded as factors and some of the protests, including reported beheadings, may reflect their participation in the rioting and armed clashes which alternate with but do not always coincide with the legitimate mass demonstrations.

While U.S. protests of innocence should not be taken at face value, in these events the forces involved do not easily fit the pattern of the “color revolutions” that have destabilized countries on Russia’s western flank.

Capital—specifically U.S. and British capital—has too much invested in Kazakhstan for this, at this stage, to be a viable strategy in maintaining Western influence.

Unless it becomes clear that the organized working class is driving these events, its full interests are not likely to be completely served in a situation in which external forces appear more invested in the stability of the government than any other outcome.


Morning Star
Morning Star

Morning Star is the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. Morning Star es el diario socialista publicado en Gran Bretaña.

People’s World
People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.